Where do I get a lateral flow test? How to order free rapid Covid tests and how to report results to NHS

Free lateral flow tests are available to order even if you don’t have any Covid-19 symptoms

With Covid-19 cases still rising across the UK, fuelling primarily by the Delta variant, the government is urging for people to get tested for coronavirus on a regular basis.

Free lateral flow tests are available in both England and Scotland to be taken twice weekly, regardless of whether you have any Covid-19 symptoms.

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The tests provide quick results in around 30 minutes (Photo: Getty Images)
The tests provide quick results in around 30 minutes (Photo: Getty Images)

But how do lateral flow tests work? Here’s what you need to know and how to order one.

What are lateral flow tests?

Lateral flow testing is a rapid way of testing people who do not have any symptoms of Covid-19, but could still unknowingly be spreading the virus.

Around one in three people with coronavirus do not display any symptoms, so rolling out this method of testing will help to identify positive cases earlier and break hidden chains of transmission.

The tests provide quick results in around 30 minutes and can be used in a wide range of settings, making them ideal for widespread rollout across the country.

Where can I get a test?

Lateral flow tests were initially only offered to people considered most at-risk from Covid-19, along with those who are unable to work from home, including frontline NHS workers.

However, everyone in England can now request a free test via a home ordering service, workplace, or school testing programme, or by collecting one at a local test site.

A new “pharmacy collect” service has also been launched to provide additional access to regular testing.

Those aged 18 and over without coronavirus symptoms can able to use the service by visiting a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of seven rapid tests to use twice a week at home.

To find a rapid lateral flow test site in your area, or a local pharmacy to collect a test to do at home, or order a test to be taken at home, simply visit the government website.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced a similar scheme in Scotland, with free lateral flow tests to be made available to everyone from Monday 26 April. These tests will be available to order from the government website.

Wales will not be following the testing policy, as much of the population have already been receiving regular tests.

Lateral flow testing is currently being offered to people who don’t have symptoms, in a range of different settings, including regular testing of NHS and social care staff, as well as in universities, schools, care homes and other workplaces.

In Northern Ireland, you can only book a Covid-19 if you have symptoms of the virus. This can be done online, at a drive or walk through test site, by ordering a postal self-test kit online, or by calling the free phone number 119.

How does the test work?

Lateral flow is an established technology which is adapted to detect proteins (antigens) that are present when a person has Covid-19.

The best known example of a lateral flow test is the home pregnancy test kit.

The test is a hand-held device which has an absorbent pad at one end and a reading window at the other, with a strip of test paper inside that changes colour in the presence of Covid-19 proteins.

If the test shows one line next to the letter ‘C’, this means that the test is negative.

If the test displays two lines, one next to the letter ‘C’ and the letter ‘T’, this is a positive result, even if the lines are faint.

A void test will show no lines, or one line next to the letter ‘T’. In this case, you will need to retake the test with a fresh kit.

If you get a positive result, you must self-isolate immediately to prevent any further transmission.

A negative result means that an active coronavirus infection was not detected at the time the test was taken, although this does not necessarily guarantee you do not have Covid-19.

People who receive a negative test should continue to follow lockdown rules, including social distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing face coverings where required.

How to take the test

Taking a lateral flow test involves taking a sample from the back of the throat near the tonsils and from the nose, using a swab.

This swab is then dipped into an extraction solution and dripped on to the device’s paper pad which produces a reaction to provide a result.

This result will be visible on the device in 30 minutes after the sample is applied. Unlike a PCR test, the swab does not need to be sent to a lab to get the results.

How to report the results

Results of a lateral flow test will be shown on the handheld device that comes with the test.

You should report the result every time you use a test kit and as soon as possible after you get the result. Results cannot be reported after more than 24 hours and must only be submitted one result at a time.

You can report your results online via the government website, and will need the barcode on the test strip or the ID number printed under it to do so. You will also need to submit a mobile phone number to receive a text confirming your result has been reported successfully.

Alternatively, you can report your results by phone by calling the number in your test kit’s instructions.